Hey! Randy

Total Depravity: It’s the Way It Is

Posted by heyrandy on August 11, 2008

In the previous post that introduced this one, I mentioned that the five points of Calvinism could be easily remembered with the acrostic TULIP.  It is with the “T” that I am dealing in this posting.

The “T” stands for Total Depravity.  This important point is often misunderstood by many unfamiliar with the teachings of Reformed Theology.  By Total Depravity it is not meant that we are as bad as we can be.  It is quite true that most people do not do all the evil they are capable of.  If they did, there would be so many of us in prison that there would not be enough jail space.  It cannot be objected against this doctrine that “We haven’t murdered, raped, robbed, etc. like so and so.”  True, we have not, but we are nevertheless totally depraved.

Some of the confusion comes from the way that depraved is commonly used in English.  The word is often used to refer to a calloused attitude on the part of someone, a hardened wickedness, a lack of pity or mercy.  “With depraved indifference” is how some unusually heinous crime is described by the judge at the sentencing of a convicted criminal.

The Calvinists use depravity to indicate the state of man in relation to God.  The Calvinistic view of God and sin is such that any sin, no matter how minor in the our opinion, renders us subject to God’s righteous judgment and wrath.  God regards us as objects of His wrath.  Any sin transgresses the pure holiness of God.

Not only does depravity mean that we are standing under the judgment of God for our sin, depravity also means that we can do nothing about our state.  It is this idea of human helplessness that is at the heart of the issue of depravity.  We cannot change our state. We are immovably fixed in the state of sin and helplessness.  You are “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph.2:1).  No amount of effort, no strenuous good doing, no amount of religious ritual will alter our state.  We are depraved.  God will not spare us.

In addition to the deadness in sin, depravity also has other effects.  To be part of the fallen mankind means to rebel against and abhor the things of God.  It is to reject God and all that is His.  This the unchangeable characteristic of natural man.  Natural man “does not accept the thing of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”  (1Cor. 2:14)  In this text the apostle expresses the great truths the man both cannot, not “will not”, understand the things of God, and man does not accept these thing because he regards them as foolishness.

Man is spiritually dead to God; man rejects what he hears of God; and man has not ability to understand the truth, because he regards it as foolishness.  It cannot get any worse in terms of effect, but in terms of affect it does get worse.  Satan has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  (2Cor. 4:4)  In addition to the natural inability and hostility of the unbelieving, there is the active effort of Satan to preclude man from believing.  This combination is deadly.

This sad state all began in the Garden of Eden with our first parents, Adam and Eve.  In Gen.3 we read of the temptation and fall of the first couple.  The effects of this sin were, and still are, profound.  We see in their actions immediately after they eat the forbidden fruit the effects of depravity.  They hid from God when they heard Him coming.  They lied and made excuses about what happened and how it happened.  We do the same thing.

There are no exceptions from this.  “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12)

I have discussed depravity, but not the “T” part, the Total.  What does it mean to be totally depraved?  It means that depravity is complete through out all of our being.  There is no area that is exempt from the effect of your sinning.  Total depravity means that all of our good works are contemptible, like “filthy rags”.  (Isa. 64:6)  These works not only do not justify us before God, they condemn us before God.

We live in an age of human potential.  We are constantly told that we have hope of improvement.  If we just had the latest perfect diet, exercise regimen, or a positive thinking attitude, we could be perfect.  Onward and upward.  This line of thought does not account for the fact of God’s pending judgment.  Self-improvement may make us feel better and give us an ephemeral earthly happiness, but it will never suffice before the throne of God on Judgment Day; it will not change our nature.  We are still totally depraved.

Total depravity reflects the fact of our true nature: that of a practicing sinner born as a sinner in Adam into a world that is cursed by sin.  It is this nature of a sinner that each of us gets from Adam and Eve that makes us so helpless before God.  We are dead and blinded.  We are incapable of receiving the truth as anything but foolishness.  It is impossible for any of us to change our nature.  It would be like a leopard changing its spots.  (Jer. 13:23)  We are stuck.  We are without hope in ourselves.

It is because of our depraved state that God takes the initiative.  Left to ourselves, we would be content to remain just as we are: dead in sin and rejecting the things of God as foolishness.  Without God’s prior regenerating grace we would never understand the Gospel.  Without God first opening our hearts, we cannot believe the gospel.  Praise Him that He does this!

We see the action of God in the conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:14) where God “opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”  Lydia was no different then than we are now.  We too need the opening of our hearts by divine action before we will believe the Truth.

Yet the Bible speaks of an even more radical transformation: the heart transplant.  In Ezekiel 11:19 the prophet tells of God’s action to remove from His people the “heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.”  The Apostle Paul speaks of confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing “in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  (Rom. 10:19)  Without the heart first being made to believe, the heart is incapable of believing.  It is as dead as a stone.

The doctrine of depravity is no small matter.  It states the condition of fallen man.  It is because of this condition of helplessness, of rejection of the things of God, of inability to obey God that God must first act upon man.  Total depravity is the way it is.


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